SoCal civil liberties groups sue to protect immigrants threatened by ICE sweep

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and other groups filed suit Thursday to protect migrants threatened by Sunday's expected mass arrest of thousands of families and children tagged for deportation by President Donald Trump's Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The lawsuit was filed in federal court in New York's Southern District on behalf of three Los Angeles-based non-profit service groups -- Central American Resource Center, Immigrant Defenders Law Center and Public Counsel -- as well as the New York's Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project.

Related: ICE deportation raids set to begin Sunday after Trump delay, report says

ICE is reportedly expected to target more than 2,000 immigrants in Los Angeles and elsewhere who have missed a court appearance or been ordered removed from the country. A similar plan was scrapped last month.

ICE spokesman Matt Bourke would not confirm the pending raids or offer details, citing "law enforcement sensitivities and the safety and security of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement personnel.''

The lawsuit argues that constitutional due process requires the government to bring arrested families and children before an immigration judge so they can have a day in court before facing deportation.

ACLU said the suit aims to protect refugee families and children who fled widespread violence in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and other countries at the hands of their governments and murderous gangs. For many of these migrants, obtaining asylum in the U.S. "could be a matter of life and death,'' according to the ACLU.

Bourke said ICE "prioritizes the arrest and removal of unlawfully present aliens who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.''

He added that 90% of those arrested by ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations division last year had either a criminal conviction, pending criminal charges or had illegally re-entered the country after previously being removed.

"However, all of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and -- if found removable by final order -- removal from the United States,'' he said.